Saturday 6 March 2010

Kong Strikes Back!

The people of New York really need to work on keeping their giant apes locked up.

Yet another forgotten tale in the book of the Commodore 64. It also appeared in the book of the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC, though they're not as good of a read. Kong Strikes Back, released by Ocean Software in 1985, is, I suppose, an "unofficial sequel" of Nintendo's Donkey Kong. It's not officially related (just like neither game is officially related to King Kong) but unlike most rip-offs at the time, this game actually does something new. Gone are the half finished industrial buildings, and in their place, a theme park!

Donkey Kong has armed himself with roller coasters, because he lives life on the edge. No seriously, he lives on the edge of the screen, popping in and out of the play area once in a while to prove his existence to non-believers. He's captured a lady, and it's Mario's job to rescue her, but uncharacteristically of the Italian, Mario has also decided that jumping isn't a necessity this time around, instead carrying BOMBS to supposedly finish that monkey off for good. In order to avoid Kong's many traps, Mario must now use the strategic power of ladders. He's probably not really called Mario, but as the game's manual hasn't been scanned in for internet users, the story needs a bit of improvising. Gameplay is very similar to the Arcade game, "Mr. Do's Wild Ride", though is more suited as a Donkey Kong sequel than a Mr. Do one.

In the Arcade game, Mario could use broken ladders as a way to avoid barrels, but it was left largely unused by players on the basis that they could just jump over most obstacles, and rank up a higher score for doing so. Now it's not an option - using ladders is a must. Though to compensate, Ocean put in a few collectible bonuses to make it more worthwhile, and also added a system wherein you can collect the letters "B", "O", "N", "U" and "S" to spell SONBU and rank up an even higher score. However, without the ability to jump, the game is significantly more linear, and the many obstacles makes it a much more difficult game than Nintendo's creation.

But it's also difficult for the wrong reasons. Modern day emulation means the Commodore 64's choice of keyboard keys isn't nice to our 104/105-key IBM-inspired keyboards, resulting in amazing combinations such as `, 1, 2 and Tab for movement. Because some levels require you to move almost instantly from your starting position, this can lead to some cheap deaths as you try and figure out how to play. It's amazing that a period was allowed to exist in the 1980s without a set of commonly defined movement keys. These days its either the arrow keys or something like the WASD setup, but back then every game had their own key setup, ranging from JOYSTICK ONLY to QAOP to left and right shift. Things are almost unplayable until you set it up properly, despite supposedly having simple controls.

One of the major downsides of this game is the graphics. You can't expect much from cheap computers in the mid-1980s, but there's no excuse for KILLER FLOATING SQUARES. Each version of the game looks radically different, but still requires a lot of imagination to invision the roller coaster setting. What this game desperately needs is a makeover, but it's unlikely to get one since Ocean no longer exist and Nintendo's legal arm would take this straight off the market these days.

The music is also extremely annoying, which is unacceptable for the Commodore 64 (known for having a great sound chip). However, its composer, Martin Galway, would later go on to produce much better compositions, including the loading theme tune to the C64 version of Arkanoid and the music from Ultima VII. If you're interested, he was also responsible for the theme behind Sabre Wulf, one of Rareware's old works.

But the game isn't half bad. It's an interesting take on the Donkey Kong formula and it makes a change from girders.


  1. I recognize this, this resembles Do! Run Run. It's a clone of Do! Run Run plastered with Donkey Kong characters.

    1. Actually it's 'Mr Do's Wild Ride' you're thinking off, but you were on the right track, so to speak :)

  2. ` (really the back-arrow on the C64, 1, 2, and Tab means that the game uses joystick port 1.